I'll Be Home for Christmas--
by Sue Kite
December 23rd, 0130 hours, Seoul standard time
"Yes, I have not disclosed that to our news service, nor did I realize everything that had happened during the four days of the storm," Kocerin continued. "I was frantic with worry the whole time, but there was little I could do but hope that they were all right in the cabin. It was only until after the trial had been scheduled and a lawyer appointed for Commander Crane that I realized everything that had happened," Kocerin said. "Now I have to try to figure out a way to repay the debt and still survive the political fallout." He smiled wanly. "Politics is difficult no matter what one’s ideology is."
The American still looked stunned, but he quickly recovered himself. "How ironic," he finally murmured. "I, too, owe Captain Crane a debt. He was one of those responsible for saving my life four years ago." Suddenly he yawned. "I’m sorry, President Kocerin, but perhaps we should sleep on this, think more about it and then meet again tomorrow night. Maybe by then we can figure out a way to salvage this situation in a mutually satisfying way." He stood up and extended his hand. "I would truly like to meet with you again and not just about Captain Crane’s situation. I have enjoyed this meeting, even when we didn’t agree. I look forward to a time of total mutual understanding and cooperation."
More rhetoric, but there was nothing to argue with in the sentiments. Kocerin nodded. "I, too, have felt a great benefit in talking with you in this way. I believe such meetings can only have positive benefits for our two countries." And Kocerin truly believed what he had just said.
"Tomorrow after the closing festivities?"
"Yes, that would be fine, Mr. President."
December 23rd, 2100 hours, Seoul Standard time
Nelson was bored, irritated, and then annoyed at his irritation, because of his inability to accomplish a single thing to help Lee at these two days of hot air and posturing. He could have been working on one of his many inventions or experiments for the past two and a half days if he was going to go back empty-handed. He jerked at the jacket of his dress blues once more, the drink in his other hand forgotten. That the president seemed to be happy about the proceedings just showed how all inclusive his politics were. But then, Harry had never given a damn about politics, only wanting to see the results of direct communications in the lives of those around him. And there had been no direct communications for him at this summit, Harry thought sourly.
Suddenly one of the president’s secret servicemen was standing before him. "Admiral Nelson, the president requests your presence after these festivities are concluded. He is having a very important meeting before we can leave for your submarine. I will let you know exactly when and where the meeting will be."
Nelson felt hope within and asked, "Who is he meeting?"
"I am not at liberty to say, sir, but I was requested to have you present."
"Thank you, I will be ready."
The man nodded and strode away. Nelson had more time to ponder this latest event.
December 23rd, 2330 hours, Seoul standard time
Kocerin and the American president sat across from one another as they had the night before, only later this time. It had been a long day, one that had included some good among a lot of pretension and posturing. Again, his impression was that the only thing accomplished at this summit was the promise from most of the heads of state to meet again in the new year. Of course that was empty, as far as Kocerin was concerned, since no one could decide on a place of meeting. Everyone wanted it to be in their own country not only for convenience but for propaganda reasons. Kocerin had hesitated to do more than to be open for another meeting.
He had also arranged for private meetings with about half of the attending heads of state; meetings which he felt would be more productive than what had been accomplished the past sixty hours.
"President Kocerin, I am in my second term of office and have found that one of the most valuable things I have learned is the ability to work the press to my advantage," the president began without preamble. "Now I may be naïve in regards to your country’s media."
"What is your idea, Mr. President and I will tell you if you are naïve or not," Kocerin replied.
"Pardon Captain Crane and release him within the next twenty-four hours and I will definitely push that good will gesture to your advantage."
"You are a bit naïve, but your idea has merit. I do have to have something, though, to take back to my people other than a good will gesture." Kocerin pulled at one of his mustaches. "I have to have something other than good press out of this, no matter how much I owe Commander Crane."
"Sir, may I interject something," Kroshna spoke up suddenly in his own language.
The Americans raised their eyebrows, but Kocerin simply nodded.
"You made a hypothetical statement to Captain Crane the night before we came here. He said that he had not the authority to make such a promise. However," he turned to the United States president, "You are the leader of your armed forces, are you not, sir?"
Kocerin translated and the president nodded. In an instant The People’s Republic president understood what his personal bodyguard was asking.
"You talked with Captain Crane?" the president asked, incredulous.
"I had to be sure that he was indeed the same person who had been in that cabin taking care of my injured father and my daughter." The American nodded. "And when I realized that he was, I had to thank him as best as I could."
"That is why you asked for the private meeting?"
"Yes, it was, but I am still unable to figure out how to make this a mutually beneficial to Captain Crane and to both of our countries," Kocerin admitted. "One thing I would like to ask you—the thing that Captain Crane could not commit to—is if you would make sure that Captain Crane not come back to our country for espionage purposes. If, as you say, you are the commander of all the military forces in your country, you should be able to do that."
"Indeed I can. In my personal opinion, Captain Lee Crane is too talented a sub commander to be also involved in spy missions. I will remove him from the rolls of whatever agency that has been using him for undercover espionage."
"I plan on suggesting to our news agencies that the anti-American rhetoric be softened. I can’t promise a cessation, however, and to be honest with you, in the interest of what you call freedom of speech…."
The American smiled and then began laughing. Finally, he continued, sobering quickly, "President Kocerin, it is such a relief to be able to speak with you face to face. I suppose I will owe Captain Crane for that one, as well. I know that there are still many differences…."
"I do not wish to insult, but let us work on the here and now and not what might be or could be, sir. I make no apologies for my country or its policies. I simply want my people to be happy and prosperous. My predecessors have tried to do that by conquest, I am trying a different way. That does not mean that I am leaning toward democracy as you would like to think."
The American sat quietly, contemplatively for a few seconds and then nodded. "You are right, President Kocerin. You are entirely right. Perhaps striving for more understanding between us, instead of thinking competitively or thinking of each other as devils incarnate is the first step."
It was Kocerin’s turn to think for a short while.
Before he could say anything, his counterpart began speaking again. "Maybe I can sweeten the pot a bit, so to speak," the president began. "In response to your magnanimous gesture of pardoning your American prisoner, I will strongly recommend to Congress that they review and then ease the trade embargo that is currently in place against your country."
"I seem to have read that there are those in your Congress who wish to ease sanctions against all countries like mine," Kocerin reminded the president, slightly stroking his mustache.
"There are and what you wish to do for Captain Crane will bring more over to that same opinion."
Kocerin turned to Kroshna. He was thinking ahead to the next day and what he planned on reporting to the official news agency about the summit and about the American, but first he had to get Crane out of his country. "I want you to return immediately to the Republic in the secondary jet, and then escort Captain Crane to the Jinzhou Airport where he and you will fly to the Seoul Airport. As soon as you leave here, I will make the call to the prison administrator, so that the American will be ready for immediate transport to the airport. I will make other calls and everything should be ready for you each step of the way. When you arrive in Korea, please give the following message to Captain Crane from me and Neera; ‘Merry Christmas.’ "
Kroshna bowed slightly, then straightened up, "Sir, I will instruct Misha as to the importance of what he is to do in my absence. And I will carry out all of your instructions."
"Thank you, Kroshna. I know you will." Kocerin gave a few more instructions and then dismissed the younger man to carry out his orders. When he had left and Misha entered the room, Kocerin turned to the American. "Kroshna is on his way back home to effect the release of the American. I need to make the appropriate calls and then we can consider this a very successful night."
"I have someone outside who will expedite Captain Crane’s arrival when you have made the arrangements, President Kocerin."
Kocerin knew who that someone was. The same man who only a few years ago had been in the top echelon of those targeted for assassination. "Admiral Harriman Nelson."
"Yes. He has been very worried about his man."
"Then the admiral needs to keep a tighter rein on him," Kocerin said bluntly. He put his briefcase on top of the narrow coffee table that had sat between them the entirety of their meetings and opened it. Inside was a high-powered mobile phone that would instantly link him to the highest priority government telephone lines. He made the calls, giving the instructions in a way that allowed no questions. When he was finished, he noticed that it was well after midnight, but he realized that was only as it should be. It was Christmas Eve. As his counterpart had said, Americans tended to be sentimental and this would play well in the United States. Hopefully well enough to open the door to a brighter economic future for the people of his country. He closed his briefcase and nodded to the very tired looking American. "Arrangements have been made. I would suggest that nothing further be done until Captain Crane is in the air on his way to Seoul. That would preclude any premature action."
"In other words, in case something goes wrong," the president said.
"Yes. Perhaps it would be better for us all to retire to our rooms. I knew that this would be late, so I have retained my suite until tomorrow morning."
The American chuckled. "I did the same, as did the admiral.
December 24th, 0300 hours, UTC+8
"Wake up, prisoner!" growled a harsh voice. The prodding of a police baton accompanied the interlude to an unsettled sleep. Lee Crane had been dreaming of a Christmas long ago. The much younger version of his present self had wanted to stay up and watch for Santa Claus. The surreal nature of the dream had some unknown voice telling him he’d been bad and wouldn’t be getting a visit from Santa this year. It had been General Zu-shin.
"Wake up now!" the voice repeated. Even as Lee opened his eyes to the relatively harsh light coming from the hallway, he was grasped by the collar and dragged from his rack.
"All right, I’m getting up," he retorted as the man released him. He replaced the sneaker that had fallen off when he had been jerked awake. Were they going to transfer him now? And what day was it. If his reckoning had been right, the last two meals marked the twenty-third of December. It was probably Christmas Eve now. "What’s going on?" he asked, even as he was shoved out into the hall.
"I have orders for your transfer, prisoner. Let’s go now."
The guard shoved him roughly forward. "I don’t know and wouldn’t tell you if I did, so shut up."
Crane shut up. He would know soon enough. He was hauled the same route taken when he had gone to trial, and the same route as when he was taken to Kocerin’s residence. In the small area adjacent to the exit, another guard placed the hated manacles and cuffs on. Sure enough, a government sedan was waiting just outside the double-doored exit. Before Lee had a chance to do more than notice the bitterly cold wind, he was ordered in and the door was shut behind him. The car was warm, though and he wasn’t going to squander even a little bit of relative comfort. Crane settled back and closed his eyes, waiting stoically for whatever the next phase of his life brought him. The drive was longer than the ones to either the courtroom or to the president’s residence.
He must have dozed because he was suddenly awakened by intense cold and bright lights in his eyes. "Get out, prisoner," the guard/driver barked.
To Lee’s astonishment, he was standing on a tarmac, gazing at an executive jet. Did they have their own version of con-air here, he wondered? It didn’t seem possible that such could be the case, but here he was. Or could it be that Kocerin had figured something out? He didn’t dare hope for that.
"Move," he was ordered.
"To the plane?" he asked, still not believing.
"Of course, idiot!"
He shuffled as fast as he could to the waiting plane and then eased up the stairs into something he would have expected for a very well placed CEO. It contained a half dozen plush chairs and on one side, a large desk. In the back was a kind of kitchenette with a small bar. What the hell was going on, he asked himself in total shock. Perhaps he was still dreaming. That was it—he was dreaming. A crazy one, like that one earlier tonight.
"Sit down," he was ordered. Lee walked to the chair indicated and sat down. It was the most comfortable thing he had experienced in a very long time. The man buckled him in, not waiting for him to do it for himself. The guard sat down in a seat next to him by the window. The jet began its preflight and then began taxiing down the tarmac. Within minutes it was airborne and Crane saw the lights of the capital city diminish. If this was a dream, he certainly wanted it to continue, but the sporadic sleep of the days before and after the trial, sleep that had been interrupted by cold, anxiety and despair, had taken its toll and he felt himself slipping into a lethargy that quickly changed to sleep. Lee never saw the other guard who joined him from the flight deck. Kroshna sat in the seat next to the desk and buckled himself in.